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Monday, January 5, 2009
FA Cup among O'Neill's priorities - for now

Martin O'Neill insists the FA Cup is high on his priorities for Aston Villa's season for now - but may change his mind as their Champions League charge progresses.

O'Neill saw his side overcome plucky League Two side Gillingham in an entertaining third-round tie at Priestfield on Sunday to move into round four for only the second time in the past eight seasons.

The Villa boss named a strong side for the clash with just three changes from the side which beat Hull 1-0 on Tuesday to send out a message that Villa are taking the cup seriously.

And although he was delighted to overcome a tough tie against the Gills, he admits his decision to field strong sides in the cup may be tested as the league season goes on, with Villa currently on course for a Champions League spot.

O'Neill said: "I think that we've gone as strongly as we can. Had Gabby Agbonlahor not taken ill, he was down to play also.

"We wanted to treat the game properly and treat the competition properly and that's what we've done.

"At this stage, just to try and get through was our priority. If we can continue to make progress in the league, obviously we'll have a look at it, but I felt it was the FA Cup third round, a big day in the calendar, also our UEFA Cup matches are not until mid-February so this was big.

"I'm delighted now that we didn't get beat, that would have been really disappointing."

Manchester United have proven a regular sticking point for Villa in the FA Cup, with the midlands outfit having gone out at the hands of United four times in seven seasons prior to this one and O'Neill was pleased to avoid them in the fourth round.

Instead Villa will face a trip to either League One Cheltenham or Championship Doncaster, who meet next week after their original tie was called off on Saturday due to a frozen pitch at Whaddon Road.

O'Neill added: "I'd like to have been at home. Obviously I'm delighted we've missed out Manchester United, that's good news because they usually turn up and beat us.

"I will get a great opportunity obviously to watch the two teams play because the game has been postponed.

"It'll be another difficult afternoon for us, but if you'd said to me beforehand that we'd be in the hat for the next round, I'd have been delighted to have taken it."

James Milner opened the scoring for the visitors with a well-taken goal after a good link up with Stiliyan Petrov, but Simeon Jackson levelled for the home side before Milner won it from the spot after Adam Miller was adjudged to have fouled Ashley Young.

And Gills boss Mark Stimson was delighted with Jackson's effort, even though it may have attracted more potential suitors for the highly-rated 21-year-old.

Jackson spun away from Zat Knight after collecting Gary Mulligan's flick on and finished superbly for his 12th goal of the season, and with Ipswich already reportedly interested, Stimson is hoping to keep hold of one of his star turns this month.

He said: "I've said from day one that he can play at a higher level, and probably people have questioned it, saying he's too small, too weak and gets knocked off the ball but he's a good player with a great attitude and showed here against a tall centre-half, to turn and run away from him and then to beat a goalkeeper of that standard from that distance is a fantastic strike.

"He will one day play higher than League Two, but hopefully it's not in the next three to six months.

"I'll be doing my utmost best to say no to any bids but at the end of the day I won't have the final say, it's down to the chairman. Every player has their price but we hope my phone stays quiet this January transfer window."

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